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More blogs »Posted on Sep 27 2012
I’m told my accent gives me away, which might lead to the title question, and an old high school friend who ‘found’ me online after I came here certainly asked me how I ended up here. The basic answer is that I discovered the rich worship in Anglican liturgy.
As a child my mother at one time or another had me in every church in Childersburg Alabama. She also tended to dress me in 100% polyester, and suits on Sunday, which contributed to my distaste for suits. But in attending all the different churches I developed an interest in the differences. When I was old enough, I put an end to the polyester, and when I could drive I chose a church for myself. I chose it using the criteria many young men use to choose things. There was this girl I was interested in…
I am grateful that attending Southern Baptist churches I gained an appreciation for solid, accurate Biblical interpretation. In their churches the pulpit is central, highlighting the central role preaching has in church. I gained an appreciation for lively preaching, imparting what the Bible passage in question is SAYING, challenging us to live more in line with Biblical principles.
I began to ask questions, particularly in seminary, about some of the other aspects of Baptist worship. Why do we not wear pulpit robes (Baptists would wear Geneva gowns, academic robes, when they wear robes at all)? “Because the Catholics do” was one answer, and that bothered me because you should never define yourself by what you’re against. “Because you should wear what the people do” was another answer, which led me to “then why do we put the choir in robes?” and “even if you’re the only one in a suit?” I noted that some preacher’s choices in suits was distracting, either because of the obvious expense of some suits or the creative colors of others. The suit questions began to coalesce into a more specific idea, that it was the ceremonial aspects of the worship I was beginning to find wanting.
You might say that it’s only the preaching that matters, or only the praise that matters, but that denies how important ceremony is. It’s how we honor events we find important. Usually, does a bride wear any old thing to her wedding? How we craft a ceremony says something about how much we honor the event. Not only that, a ceremony well done can move us, teach us. The military are masters of this. A Chief Petty Officer let slip to me one little piece of a new chief’s initiation. You see, a Sailor wears that iconic ‘Dixie Cup’ hat as he’s promoted until he becomes a Chief, at which point his uniform changes to look much like an officer’s. On the night before he ‘puts on Chief’, he wears that cap out to the beach, kneels down to dig a hole in the sand, then buries the cap, never to wear it again. Wow. That is evocative. He once was a Sailor, but now he has to BE a Chief.
I was a Navy chaplain for 20 years, and it’s a wonderfully ecumenical ministry where I got to work alongside ministers of all kinds of faiths, and ask lots of questions. An Anglican’s robes, the Alb and the Cassock, actually date to earlier forms of common dress (the Alb is based on the Toga) and survive from the expectation that a priest should dress conservatively. They have the effect, though, of taking the congregation’s attention OFF what the priest is wearing, since they see him in it all the time, like a uniform. It also identifies him, like a police officer’s uniform identifies them, and helps ‘set the stage’ for worship. And though it’s not the original idea behind the robes, it becomes symbolic of the Holy Spirit descending on the celebrant to empower the ministry (I make a point of crediting God if the sermon was good, and taking the blame if it was bad, because I think that’s what happens).
One incident marked an important point in my spiritual pilgrimage. I’ve always thought the Lord’s Supper was very, very important. I’ve always enjoyed participating in it. A church we attended while I was assigned to the USS Harry S Truman in Chesapeake Virginia was meeting in a high school auditorium while they were saving the money to build a church building of their own, and held communion only once a quarter. On the Sunday they did, I was really looking forward to it. They passed out little plastic cups of grape juice that had a foil lid over the top, with a bullet of bread sitting on that, and a film of plastic wrap over it all. When the words were pronounced, we peeled off the plastic and took the bread, then at the next words we peeled off the foil and drank the juice. I went home, my wife went to work, and as the day progressed I found myself getting restless. Finally I realized I felt cheated out of the Lord’s Supper by the way it was conducted. I called my children together, got some bread and some wine, and did it again with more reverence.
In Luke 22 we find “19 And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 20 And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” The way Jesus describes this, it’s important. Skipping the deep theology for another time, I will say now that this is evocative. Ceremonially, we are taking into ourselves Jesus’ very body and blood. By it we are forgiven, but now we ought to live like He’s within us. And the more reverence with which we do this ceremony, the more impact it has.
After that, it was just a matter of time that I would become an Anglican. My wife, having done genealogical research, noted that fully one half of Wilmots she’s studies identified themselves as ‘Baptist’, the other half ‘Anglican’. Ironically, the chaplain I replaced on the USS Enterprise later left the United Methodist church to be ordained an Anglican through the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), and he introduced me to them. Just prior to serving on the Enterprise I was stationed on Cape Cod with the Coast Guard, and when I saw Church of the Resurrection was looking for a pastor, I jumped at the chance. In many ways, I have come home.